- Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making
Once a dessert of European royalty, ice cream has completed a remarkable transformation into one of the most widely consumed desserts in the United States. The story of this transformation is partly a story of technological change. New technologies have simplified the production of ice cream, particularly in comparison to seventeenth-century Italy where ice cream was considered a summertime dessert and the methods of procuring ice in the summer were available to a tiny percentage of the population. But the story of ice cream’s transformation is not simply a story of technological change. The history of ice cream is filled with chefs, entrepreneurs, cookbook authors, and others who helped popularize ice cream and a variety of related desserts.
Jeri Quinzio’s Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making is an ambitious overview of this frozen treat from its origins to the beginnings of industrialized ice cream production. Starting with seventeenth-century Italian ices and iced creams, Quinzio follows the spread and transformation of these new desserts to France and England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In its earliest form, ice cream was produced in only the wealthiest households, as reflected in cookbooks written by household managers containing recipes that call for rare and expensive ingredients. From these elite origins, ice cream became a delicacy sold at confectioners’ shops in London and Paris in the nineteenth century. [End Page 453]
Leaving Europe, Quinzio follows the history of ice cream to the United States and examines the democratization of ice cream. In the nineteenth century, a new ice industry, improved production technologies, and less expensive ingredients helped make ice cream more economical and more widely consumed. To sell the newly affordable treat, Quinzio looks at the growth of ice cream peddlers and businesses such as saloons, pleasure gardens, and eventually soda fountains where more and more people could procure and consume ice cream. In addition to examining the business of ice cream, Quinzio describes the growth of homemade ice cream in the late nineteenth century, a time in which it became normal to serve ice cream at American social events. Quinzio shows how this nineteenth-century growth of ice cream businesses and ice cream consumption occurred without any reliance on mechanized refrigeration, a technology essential to the modern ice cream industry.
In the twentieth century, Quinzio completes her history of ice cream by following the continuing growth of the ice cream industry. The invention of the ice cream cone in the early twentieth century helped the ice cream industry grow; prohibition helped even more when many saloons began selling ice cream instead of alcohol. Additionally, the growth of mechanical refrigeration and new techniques for substituting less expensive ingredients made ice cream even more affordable. The lowered cost of production and increasing competition led to a variety of new products such as the Eskimo Pie. Despite setbacks during the Great Depression, ice cream had become entrenched in the United States by the end of World War II.
Scholars may find several shortcomings in Quinzio’s account. The wide breadth of the study limits Quinzio’s ability to address topics in great depth. After noting that the history of ice cream is riddled with myths, Quinzio aims “to set the record straight” (p. ix). While this is an admirable goal, more thorough footnotes would make Quinzio’s history more convincing. Quinzio does cite a mixture of primary and secondary sources for some claims, but the evidentiary base of many claims is unclear. Finally, Quinzio utilizes a variety of secondary literature to help explain the history of ice cream, but does little to explicitly add to this literature. A greater engagement with historical literature would make Of Sugar and Snow valuable to more scholars.
Despite these drawbacks, Quinzio has written an engaging overview of the history of ice cream that has several strengths. To describe...